Submissions/Opening the vault of the Folger Shakespeare Library: an ongoing institutional case study

From Wikimania 2014 • London, United Kingdom

After careful consideration, the Programme Committee has decided not to accept the below submission at this time. Thank you to the author(s) for participating in the Wikimania 2014 programme submission, we hope to still see you at Wikimania this August.

Submission no. 2029
Title of the submission
Opening the vault of the Folger Shakespeare Library: an ongoing institutional case study
Type of submission (discussion, hot seat, panel, presentation, tutorial, workshop)
Author of the submission
Erin Blake, Head of Collection Information Services; Eric Johnson, Director of Digital Access
E-mail address
Special:EmailUser/Erin.Blake and Special:EmailUser/EricJohnsonFolger
Country of origin
Affiliation, if any (organisation, company etc.)
The Folger Shakespeare Library
Personal homepage or blog
Abstract (at least 300 words to describe your proposal)

Spurred by an ambitious strategic plan, the Folger Shakespeare Library is building an open-source network of wikis, digital images, and transcribed and annotated texts. Since its founding in 1932, the library has built a substantial bond of trust with its various communities, and its present challenge is to build free, open, useful, and ever-growing resources in collaboration with those communities, while remaining true to its original mission. We hope our story will help other cultural institutions as they consider and execute similar efforts, and Wikimania attendees will learn more about what happens when an independent research library commits itself to greater openness.

The Folger's vault contains the most significant Shakespeare-related materials in the world, as well as a trove of resources for researchers of early-modern European history and culture. But the Folger is much more than a research library: it sponsors scholarly programs, supports secondary and elementary teachers through its education programs, publishes the most widely-read Shakespeare texts in the U.S. (available in print, as iOS apps, and free web-accessible versions). Folger Theatre regularly hosts sold-out crowds at its award-winning productions, and our public exhibitions draw thousands of appreciative visitors.

Despite these strengths, the Folger has a number of emerging challenges:

  • Our physical collections could be ignored if they have no digital-world representations; however, we still must recognize the primacy of the physical objects that make up our collection.
  • We want to embrace online engagement without discouraging in-person visitors to the Folger.
  • The geographical and cultural diversity of our audiences has expanded, and reaching these audiences entails a deeper commitment to building our our online infrastructure.
  • Before the Internet, the Folger's audiences were largely separate. But now that the Internet is involved with everything the Folger does -- even live theatrical productions -- Folger staff have to collaborate much more closely with each other.
  • For an institution literally built around rare books and other unique physical materials, internal and external collaboration poses technological challenges.

The Folger's internal changes include:

  • Charging senior managers with responsibility for enacting the openness called for in the strategic plan.
  • Forming an Online Strategy Council of representatives from across the institution, which queries staff about how to support the Folger's digital initiatives, and makes policy recommendations to management.
  • Convening a content team that identifies the best use of existing publicly-accessible material, and identifies materials that can be created to benefit the public.

The Folger has several current projects and initiatives that are relevant to the free culture movements, including:

  • Shakespeare texts: The modern, bestselling play texts of the Folger Shakespeare Library Editions are available under a Creative Commons license, and are distributed in HTML and XML formats.
  • Digitized images: The Folger’s collection of 60,000 images from its collections are also available under a Creative Commons license, and new objects are added automatically to the collection (along with associated metadata) as they are digitized.
  • Folgerpedia and other wikis: The Folgerpedia wiki captures knowledge from staff and external scholars about the Folger's collections and activities. This allows us to capture and share information in ways that we couldn't with our online catalog or other traditional library systems.
  • Early Modern Manuscripts Online: This three-year grant-funded project will transcribe tens of thousands of early-modern manuscripts, many of which were only readable by trained paleographers. These transcriptions will be generated by trained experts, and crowdsourced by undergraduate students working under the direction of a professor.

We also plan to present our vision of the "Folgersphere," the platform on which all of these initiatives will live, and where the content can found through a federated search mechanism, as well as external search engines. Most of the Folgersphere is being built on open-source technologies, and the primary sources from the vault are open for public use.

GLAM Outreach
Length of session (if other than 30 minutes, specify how long)
30 minutes
Will you attend Wikimania if your submission is not accepted?
Slides or further information (optional)
Sample slides: Opening the vault of the Folger
Special requests

Interested attendees

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  1. I would be very interested in attending this talk and am so glad to have Folger interested in presenting. Hey presenters, are your aware that your organization is way out of step with the Wikipedia community for claiming copyright over public domain two-dimensional works that you digitized and that your non-commercial use licensing prevents your content from being reused in all the typical education channels? You are not starting on good footing to enact your request that people link back to you every time they share reproductions of the physical artifacts you claim to have a right to control. There is a lot of jargon in this proposal talking about things of little concern to most people in this community and the proposal omits the most obvious explanations that Wikipedians would want. Please come to Wikimania but please consider also your audience here. Blue Rasberry (talk) 22:56, 7 April 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Thanks for your interest, and we hope you do attend the talk if we are fortunate enough to present it. It's our hope that attendees will learn how a non-governmental cultural institution like the Folger goes about opening its holdings, which are far more open than they were several years ago, and we are strongly considering opening them further. We'd also like to know more about "the most obvious explanations that Wikipedians would want" -- maybe you could add that to the Discussion page, or e-mail us privately? EricJohnsonFolger (talk) 00:16, 8 April 2014 (UTC)[reply]
Sure - why call this open when you are using a non-open license (noncommercial is nonopen) and why are you claiming copyright over scans of public domain work. I also want to hear you present and if you do, I think those would be the big issues to address. Blue Rasberry (talk) 10:42, 10 June 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  1. Very cool. I hosted Jim Kuhn last year at UcBerkeley for the OpenGLAM event! SarahStierch (talk) 20:20, 13 April 2014 (UTC)[reply]
    1. Good to hear from you, Sarah. Jim left us to move to Rochester, NY, and was lucky enough to be named his successor as Head of Collection Information Services. --Erin.Blake (talk) 13:33, 19 April 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  2. Djembayz (talk) 11:54, 18 April 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  3. Scott talk 20:50, 6 May 2014 (UTC)[reply]
  4. Your name here